Apple’s latest iPhone SE is being released today, and it’s certainly going to make a big impact on the market, for the simple reason that this is a $399 iPhone. We’ve had the new phone for a mere 24 hours, but we've been able to quickly put the device through its paces, showcasing the biggest differentiating factors for the phone – a device that can be essentially described as an iPhone 8 but with the brains of an iPhone 11.

In that sense, the second-generation iPhone SE is an extremely straightforward device. Externally, there’s very little that exposes it as a 2020 phone, with only the most minute design changes present. Powered by Apple's latest-generation A13 chip however, it’s hiding the strongest internal components in the market right now, easily beating any other device from the competition – at any price point. What’s left to be tested is how the new iPhone SE’s camera holds up, and if there’s any other noticeable differences between it, the iPhone 8, and the iPhone 11 series phones.

Apple 2019-2020 iPhone Specifications
  iPhone 11 Pro iPhone 11 Pro Max iPhone 11

iPhone SE
(2020)

SoC Apple A13 Bionic

2 × Lightning Performance @ 2.66GHz
8MB L2

4 × Thunder Efficiency @ 1.73GHz
4MB L2
GPU Apple, 4 Cores
DRAM 4GB LPDDR4X 3GB LPDDR4X
Display 5.8-inch OLED
2436×1125
DCI-P3/True Tone
800 cd/m² brightness
2M:1 contrast ratio
3D Touch
6.5-inch OLED
2688×1242
DCI-P3/True Tone
800 cd/m² brightness
2M:1 contrast ratio
3D Touch
6.1-inch LCD
1792×828
DCI-P3/True Tone
625 cd/m² brightness
1400:1 contrast ratio
-
4.7-inch LCD
1334×750
DCI-P3/True Tone
625 cd/m² brightness
1400:1 contrast ratio
-
Size Height 144.0 mm 158.0 mm 150.9 mm 138.4 mm
Width 71.4 m 77.8 mm 75.7 mm 67.3 mm
Depth 8.1 mm 8.1 mm 8.3 mm 7.3 mm
Weight 188 grams 226 grams 194 grams 148 grams
Battery Life 3046mAh

+14.5% capacity
"+4H vs XS"
3969mAh

+25% capacity
"+5H vs XS Max"
3110mAh

+5.7% capacity
"+1H vs XR"
1810mAh

+0% capacity
vs iPhone 8
Wireless Charging Qi
Rear Cameras Main 12 MP 1.4µm Dual Pixel PD

f/1.8, OIS

Wide Color Gamut
Quad LED True Tone Flash
12 MP 1.4µm

f/1.8, OIS

Wide Color Gamut
Quad LED True Tone Flash
Tele-
Photo
12 MP f/2.0 Telephoto, OIS
2x Optical Zoom
- -
Wide 12MP f/2.4
120° Ultra-wide Angle
-
Front Camera 12MP f/2.2 Wide Angle 7MP f/2.2
Storage 64 GB
256 GB
512 GB
64 GB
256 GB
512 GB
64 GB
128 GB
256 GB
64 GB
128 GB
256 GB
I/O Apple Lightning
Wireless (local) 802.11ax Wi-Fi with MIMO + Bluetooth 5.0 + NFC
Cellular Gigabit-class LTE-A
4x4 MIMO and LAA
Gigabit-class
LTE-A
2x2 MIMO and LAA
Gigabit-class
LTE-A
Splash, Water, Dust Resistance IP68
up to 2 meters (Pro models = 4 meters), up to 30 minutes
IP67
up to 1 meters, up to 30 minutes
Dual-SIM nano-SIM + eSIM
Launch Price 64 GB:
$999 / £1049 / 1149€

256 GB:
$1149 / £1199 / 1319€

512 GB:
$1349 / £1399 / 1549€
64 GB:
$1099 / £1149 / 1249€

256 GB:
$1249 / £1299 / 1419€

512 GB:
$1449 / £1499 / 1649€
64 GB:
$699 / £729 / 799€

128 GB:
$749 / £779 / 849€

256 GB:
$849 / £879 / 969€
64 GB:
$399 / £419 / €479

128 GB:
$449 / £469 / €529

256 GB:
$549 / £569 / €649
 

Hardware-wise, the iPhone SE is anything but a budget or middle-range phone. Being powered by Apple’s A13 SoC, the company didn't spare any expense by going for a previous generation chipset, and rather used the latest and greatest they had available. What this means is that performance-wise, the new iPhone SE essentially should be on par with the iPhone 11 series – which in turn means that alongside its siblings, the new SE will be the most powerful mobile phone on the market right now.

As to why Apple chose to do this, I think it’s just a simple matter of projected longevity of the phone. Apple might not be producing previous generation A-series chipsets for much longer whereas the iPhone SE is a new product that will need to be supported (and likely to be produced) for several years into the future. Choosing the A13 here might not be the cheapest option at the very beginning of the phone’s lifetime, but it’s certainly going to pay off long-term when it comes to production as well as support.

Apple gives the iPhone SE 3GB of LPDDR4X RAM – one less GB than the iPhone 11 series, but still significantly more than past iterations of iPhones. Other internal component upgrades are the new cellular modem which is on par with the iPhone 11 series, and the new WiFi 6 combo chip that now also provides Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity.

While I generally prefer black front bezels on smartphones, it’s a so-so choice for the iPhone SE. On one hand it focuses you more on the screen content, however the black is also a lot more a finger-print magnet, and I did think the white iPhone 8 looked quite nice as it was. Holding both phones side-by-side, the back front does feel “older” and less modern than the white variant. I guess it’s a matter of preference.

As for the display, the only difference between the 4.7-inch iPhone SE and the iPhone 8’s own 4.7-inch, 1334 x 750 resolution IPS LCD is the fact that the new screen lacks 3D Touch. Instead, Apple is favoring the new long-press haptics that were introduced in the iPhone 11 series.

From the back, there’s also some very slight design changes. First of all, the new logo is centered, and the “iPhone” marking is gone, compared to the iPhone 8’s back glass design.

Interestingly, the new white design is actually significantly whiter than the iPhone 8’s white on the back glass, it now matches the brighter tone that was previously found on the front bezels. It does allow the white to pop out a lot more and I do prefer this shade.

The only other minuscule difference between the two phones is the fact that the back microphone and bottom speaker’s black mesh has been replaced with a silver one, more closely matching the white theme of the phone.

Size-wise, compared to contemporary phones, the iPhone SE has an outright diminutive stature. Compared to the iPhone X/XS/11 Pro body, which for the last two years has been Apple’s smallest form-factor device, the iPhone SE feels tiny, not only in its dimensions, but also in terms of weight.

The weight difference however does come with one big caveat: the iPhone SE shares the same battery as the iPhone 8, meaning it comes in at a tiny 1810mAh. That’s a huge disadvantage compared to the bigger capacities of the new iPhone 11 series phones, but the iPhone SE is also sporting a very small and very efficient display panel. Apple claims battery life is in line with the iPhone 8 – a claim we’ll verify later in the mini-review.

Overall, it’s been refreshing to use a smaller form-factor phone these days. I have no doubts that a very large part of the potential buyers of the iPhone SE will be those that just aren’t willing to switch to the bigger and heftier devices that have become the norm in the last few years. It’s a dying breed of phones, and the iPhone SE here no doubt is catering both for nostalgia and smaller-form-factor market.

Camera-wise, that’s where we’ll be seeing some quite larger differences between the new iPhone SE and its contemporary siblings. Whilst the A13 and its new ISP will be no doubt upgrading the image processing abilities of the phone, its hardware is still only similar to that of the iPhone 8. Apple here uses the same generation sensor, which means it’s significantly smaller than what’s found on the iPhone 11’s – and of course there’s only one module. We did some quick camera testing and found some differences to the iPhone 8’s capturing ability – some positive but also some negatives, read more in the later section.

Overall, the iPhone SE is taking the physical formula that should be well tested and proven by almost 500 million users out there. It’s certainly not a modern-looking phone, but it remains unique in the market today due to its size and light weight.

System Performance
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  • euskalzabe - Friday, April 24, 2020 - link

    LineageOS does not support many devices out there. I should know, they've never supported any of the Moto or Nokia phones I've bought and wanted to install it on. Also, please a) don't lie about downgrading performance, it's been proven time and again that this is not necessarily so, and b) do not compare voiding your phone's warranty and performing a somewhat complicated phone flashing process VS simply installing an OEM-seeded OTA update. Those are two very, very different things. Reply
  • liquid_c - Friday, April 24, 2020 - link

    Oh, really? With zero security which means zero banking apps. I’d like to see you use your credit card with LineageOS. Also, is your one+ or whatever bargain bin crap of a phone you’re using with 100% battery health? Or just as speedy as day 1, right?
    Jesus, i despise rabid fans such as yourself. All you can do is muster up some useless excuses for how bad “X” is and how good and long-lasting “Y” is.
    Reply
  • SMOKEU - Sunday, May 10, 2020 - link

    I signed up to TH just to respond to your ridiculous comment.

    I've "used" credit cards on LineageOS for many years with one of the largest banks in this country with NO issues whatsoever. Even the official bank app works fine.

    OnePlus One was never a "bargain bin crap of a phone". It was a high end device when released.
    Reply
  • cha0z_ - Thursday, August 6, 2020 - link

    You need to be burned just once to understand his comment. Using a credit card in 3rd party ROM/kernel and rooted phone has it's risks as it's a lot easier for a rogue app to steal your details, log your passwords and so on. Also I should tell you that it's common practice for stoled cards to not be used right away, but stored in database for future use before they expire. There is also always the risk that dev or someone helping the dev to put something in the ROM/kernel from the start. I can give you a lot of examples where people feel safe because it's open source only to end up that something rogue was there for years rofl and noone checked it out or found it.

    Why someone should even do with all those risks and time consuming things instead of buying iphone for less money than current samsung android phone? You get 6 years of day one full software support as their most expensive current iphone, you get better running apps with more features, hassle free and "it just works", a lot better screen mirroring that is so lag free and high quality that I use my 11 pro max as a console with my ps4 wireless controller, camera that takes the picture from the first try, video recording of insane quality with no rival at android front and whatnot + ios14 adds app drawer, widgets on your home screen, notification for incoming call instead of full screen when you use your phone, picture in picture so you can watch videos while doing something else or listen to audio while it's hidden... I mean, seriously. ios and android are not that different nowdays feature wise, but ios apps are just better with more features and better running, even google's own apps + you got 6 years of full support, better security, less spyware (say hi to google!) + my secondary 6s is great on the newest ios and totally ok for a daily driver phone. I also had 10 years of high end android phones history with my latest being exynos note 9 for 1k euro that is already not supported and still in me, I can tell you a totally different story how it was supported vs my iphone 11 pro max and ironically my iphone 6s that was literally supported the same great way as the 11 pro max, no discrimination at all.
    Reply
  • Zerrohero - Friday, April 24, 2020 - link

    “ 5 years of updates that will make it 10% slower every year and remove 10% battery life every year.”

    My 4,5 year old iPhone 6s runs the latest iOS and it’s very zippy. No performance issues whatsoever.

    Battery replacement for SE is $49 or something like that, parts and labour, authorized service.

    So, everything you wrote is rubbish. But *of course* you know it perfectly well.
    Reply
  • Speedfriend - Saturday, April 25, 2020 - link

    My 4,5 year old iPhone 6s runs the latest iOS and it’s very zippy

    That is just rubbish, my work iPhone 7 has slowed down significantly to the point where I often tap at it twice thinking I didn't touch it properly. And it battery life in use is down significantly too.
    Reply
  • hlovatt - Sunday, April 26, 2020 - link

    My original, 4 year old, iPhone SE runs great on latest OS. So no, no slowing with OS updates. I did get the battery replaced about a year ago though. Reply
  • cha0z_ - Thursday, August 6, 2020 - link

    Then you either got a defective phone or bugged down the ios. You know, there is no operating system in the world that is user proof to be gentle. :)
    I also have secondary iphone 6s that ran half of ios12, ios 13 from the beta and till the last one and currently ios14 beta with all the new features like picture in picture, app drawer, widgets and it runs smooth as silk + fast. So your problem is with your unit, either because there is something wrong with it or because the operating system is broken by you/someone who used the phone before you and need a fresh reinstall.
    Reply
  • cha0z_ - Wednesday, August 5, 2020 - link

    I have second hand iphone 6s with changed battery, running ios 14 beta 3 and before that ios 13 with all it's subversions. It's as fast and smoother than my exynos note 9, so you are talking bs. :)

    Also lol at lineage argument. It's always NOT like officially released base + firmware + rom. I know, I am on XDA from over 10 years + gave my fair share developing (mainly for HTC phones). Also there are things like note line, running lineage will do what? Exactly, remove 50% what makes that phone a note and manually returning some apps will not fix that. Porting is the next option, but that also got it's flaws. Not to mention that development is far far far from what it was back around 2010-2014 peak.

    Ofc android is great and all, but don't take away points from apple and what they do right when android phone makers charge you the same or recently - MORE than what apple does, but they don't want to adopt apple's support policy. :)

    P.S. I also have iphone 11 pro max from almost a year and the battery is at 98%, because I am not stupid to use fast charger. Same thing with my note 9 - fast charging turned off in settings day one and the battery is in great shape. Fast charging speed up battery degradation by a lot. So dunno about your 10% every year, maybe if someone use unoriginal faulty cheap power adapter and/or cable - sure, even more in some cases.
    Reply
  • sonny73n - Saturday, April 25, 2020 - link

    Another sheep thinking updates actually make the phone better. Are you mentally ill? Haven’t you noticed FOR THE LAST 10 years, every time an iDevice got updated, it slowed down? Reply

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